PI Original Bob Skolnik Wednesday March 19th, 2014, 1:33pm

Boykin Wins Crowded Democratic Race For Cook County Board's 1st District Seat

Fueled by more than $100,000 of his own money and the backing of Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago), Richard Boykin won the hotly contested race for the Cook County Board's Democratic nomination in the 1st District.  We provide a closer look at the race and Boykin's victory.

Fueled by more than $100,000 of his own money and the backing of Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago), Richard Boykin won the hotly contested race for the Cook County Board's Democratic nomination in the 1st District.

Boykin, a partner at the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, served for nine years as Davis’s chief of staff. The Democratic nomination is tantamount to a victory in the race to succeed retiring Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins. No Republican or Green Party candidates filed to run in Tuesday’s primary.

Boykin won the tough five way race in the district, which includes much of the west side of Chicago and western suburbs, with 30.6 percent of the vote close to 99 percent of precincts reporting. Twenty-seven year-old Blake Sercye, who had the support of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, finished second about 1,100 votes behind Boykin with 26 percent of the vote. Former 29th Ward alderman Isaac “Ike" Carothers won the city portion of the district and finished third with 22.9 percent of the vote. Brenda Smith, an aide to Collins and a former aide to Carothers, finished fourth with 17 percent of the vote despite running a lackluster campaign. Oak Park activist Ron Lawless could only get 3.6 percent of the vote despite putting $50,000 of his own money into his campaign.

At the Boykin victory party, which featured melon slices, cheese cubes, turkey and an open bar with beer and wine, in a small ballroom at Oak Park’s Carleton Hotel, supporters relished triumphing over Preckwinkle and Emanuel.

“We beat the County Board president and also City Hall,” exulted Willie Wilson, chairman of the Boykin campaign, before introducing Davis who then introduced Boykin.

Boykin, who is an ordained Baptist minister as well as a lawyer and lobbyist, thanked Davis for his support, which included him narrating a television ad for Boykin that ran during the final week of the campaign. The race was one of the most expensive county board races ever in Cook County with total expenditures by all the candidates of more than $500,000.

“I want to thank Congressman Danny Davis,” Boykin, 45, said. “He’s more than a friend; he’s more than a former boss, more than somebody I lived with when I came here. He’s like a father to me and so he shares in this victory too.”

The win was sweet for Davis, who lost some 29th Ward battles to Carothers over the years.

Sercye, a politically ambitious native of the Austin neighborhood and a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago Law School, carried the suburban portion of the district on the back of an exceptionally strong showing in Oak Park where Sercye won 59 percent of the vote. Sercye was endorsed by State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and the Democratic Party of Oak Park. Sercye beat Boykin by 1,335 votes in Oak Park, where Boykin captured 21.4 percent of the vote.

But Boykin won majority of the remaining suburban areas in the district and reduced Sercye’s margin in the suburbs to 643 votes.

“I want to thank Proviso Township,” Boykin said. “The suburbs were pretty good to us, especially out in Proviso.”

Boykin was backed by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough and the Proviso Township Democratic Organization.

Carothers, who was released from prison two years ago after serving time after pleading guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for supporting a zoning change for a developer, narrowly won the city portion of the district with 32.39 percent of the city vote. Carothers did well in his home base of the 29th Ward where he captured 35.5 percent of the vote. Carothers did almost as well in the 37th Ward, where he was endorsed by Ald. Emma Mitts. He won about 34.6 percent of the vote there.

Boykin captured about 29.6 percent of the city vote according to the latest figures from the Chicago Board of Elections website. That was enough to easily propel him past Sercye who received only 15.74 percent of the vote in the city of Chicago.

Emanuel’s endorsement of Sercye may have hurt him on the West Side as his opponents tried to tie him to Emanuel’s unpopular school closings.

The Sercye campaign was a little surprised by Carothers strength in the city. Sercye's camp concentrated its attacks on Boykin in an extensive direct mail campaign, which is a decision one Sercye operative was second guessing Tuesday night.

“Ike’s winning the city,” the operative said. “Realistically, we should have laid a hand on him. We should have added him to the negative track.”

Boykin ran consistently throughout the district and captured about 20 percent of the vote in Oak Park.

“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and talked with thousands of people throughout this campaign and what I’ve learned is that everybody wants the same thing,” said Boykin in his victory speech. “Whether you’re talking to folks in Austin, east or west Garfield, Lawndale, Oak Park, Forest Park, Bellwood, Maywood, Broadview, Westchester, Hillside, they all want the same thing. They want safe streets. They want their kids to be able to walk down the street without fear of being gunned down. They want opportunity for their kids and I think we can grow opportunity for their kids if we have safe streets.”

Sercye received a late infusion of cash from Preckwinkle and Emanuel, but he and the other candidates were still badly outspent by Boykin, who raised more than $300,000 including his own contributions.

That financial edge was apparent in Boykin’s television advertising and in his much more polished campaign organization.

While Sercye’s campaign was managed by a 28 year-old high school classmate of Sercye's who had limited political experience, Boykin’s campaign was guided by experienced campaign strategist Hanah Jubeh, who served as a senior advisor to Alexi Giannoulias during his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign and managed 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fiortetti’s winning 2007 aldermanic campaign. Jubeh, who runs her own consulting firm, also is an advisor to the Chicago Federation of Labor, which backed Boykin as did AFSCME and Teamsters Local 700.

“Nobody wins a campaign alone; it’s won by a team,” Boykin said.

Jubeh’s role in the Giannoulias campaign proved somewhat ironic in this race because in 2010 Boykin backed Republican Mark Kirk in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. During the county board race, Boykin was attacked for backing Kirk and making occasional donations to a few other Republicans.

Jubeh said Boykin developed a relationship with Kirk when he worked for Davis as his chief of staff. In his victory speech, Boykin made no apologies for his willingness to work with Republicans. 

“We’re looking forward to working with everybody whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” Boykin said. “We’re going to work with everybody because the 1st District is just too important not to work with other people.”

Boykin called for holding the line on taxes.

“I cannot wait to get to work to make this a better community, to make those streets safe and to bring job opportunities, and to lower property taxes and to keep sales taxes where they are or lower,” Boykin said.

Boykin benefited from the connections he made as Davis’s chief of staff. He was endorsed by many suburban mayors.

The depth of Boykin’s connections was apparent on Election Day considering John Wyma, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to former governor Rod Blagojevich during his time as congressman, hit the streets to help push Boykin's campaign. Wyma, who is also close to Emanuel, remained close to Blagojevich while he was governor. Wyma eventually cooperated with federal prosecutors investigating Blagojevich and testified as a prosecution witness when Blagojevich was convicted of multiple corruption charges.

Boykin was attacked during the campaign for taking multiple homestead property tax exemptions on property that he owned. During the campaign, he asked that two of his homestead exemptions be canceled.

Sercye, an associate at the law firm of Jenner & Block, was subdued after delivering his concession speech at a restaurant owned by the village president of Oak Park, a Sercye supporter.

“The things that we pushed for in this race are going to matter to the next county commissioner, [and they are] are going to matter to the next county commissioner because we made them issues,” Sercye said. “We made transparency, accountability [and] ethics issues in this race, so we know those are things our next commissioner is going to have to take into account.”

Image: BoykinForCookCounty.com


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